Federal Laws and Agency Enforcement
One way to learn about federal laws and regulations is through the federal agencies charged with enforcing them. Check the list below for links to agency sites on popular legal topics. Where no federal law exists, sites offer compilations of state laws on a topic.
Debt and Bankruptcy
Immigration and Citizenship
Information and Privacy
Jobs and Employment
Protection of Animals and the Environment
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities. It guarantees equal opportunity in:
The Department of Justice ADA information line answers questions about ADA requirements. It's available to businesses, state and local governments, and the public. Call 1- 800-514-0301 (TTY: 1-800-514-0383).
Find More ADA Resources From the Government
The ADA website has information on:
The United States Access Board website provides:
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to make electronic and information technology accessible.
When to File a Complaint
According to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, hotels, restaurants, and certain places of entertainment must provide disability access.
If you feel that you've been the object of Title III discrimination, you can file an ADA complaint.
Environmental Laws and Regulations
Protection of the environment is managed at the federal and state levels.
Air Pollutants, Clean Water, and Safe Drinking Laws
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) addresses several issues, from setting limits on certain air pollutants to enforcing federal clean water and safe drinking laws. In addition, EPA enforces federal regulations to reduce the impact of businesses on the environment.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed in 1973 to provide for the protection and conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals as well as their habitats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service are responsible for administering the ESA:
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and EPA have a cooperative arrangement to carry out the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The FDA has responsibility over the safety of food and any substance that is applied to the human body.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a part of the U.S. Department of Labor, deals with problems with the environment inside the workplace. This includes the presence or handling of chemicals and noxious fumes.
Issues Relating to State, Local, and Tribal Government Operations
Many environmental programs have been delegated to the states and they have primary responsibility over them. In addition, some environmental laws and regulations apply to tribal government operations.
Impeachment is the process of bringing charges against a government official for wrongdoing. A trial may be held and the official may be removed from office.
The Constitution gives Congress the power to impeach federal officials.
The House of Representatives brings articles (charges) of impeachment against an official.
An official can be impeached for treason, bribery, and “other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
If the House adopts the articles by a simple majority vote, the official has been impeached.
The Senate holds an impeachment trial. In the case of a president, the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice presides.
If found guilty, the official is removed from office. They may never be able to hold elected office again.
If they are not found guilty, they may continue to serve in office.
Impeachment of Federal Officials
The House has initiated impeachment proceedings more than 60 times. But there have been only 19 impeachments. This includes two presidents, one cabinet secretary, and one senator. But only eight—all federal judges—were found guilty by the Senate and removed from office.
The two presidents who went to trial on impeachment charges were:
Both remained in office following acquittals on all charges.
Former President Richard Nixon was not impeached. He resigned shortly after Congress started the impeachment process against him in 1974.
Impeachment of State and Local Officials
A state's legislature can impeach its governor and other state officials. Many local governments also have impeachment procedures.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) states that anyone, U.S. citizen or not, can request a copy of any federal agency record. Under FOIA, all federal agencies must disclose records requested in writing. If you want to get copies of records under FOIA, contact the agency holding the records you want.
Help with FOIA-Related Inquiries
Contact the Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy for guidance about FOIA policies. Call 1-202-514-FOIA (1-202-514-3642).
Exemptions and Exclusions
Agencies can withhold information related to nine exemptions and three exclusions under FOIA. FOIA applies only to federal agencies. It doesn't apply to records held by Congress, the courts, or state or local government agencies. Each state has its own public access laws.
You can search for data from a single agency or compare data from several agencies. Follow the steps to create a report from agencies' annual FOIA reports.
Get Copies of Your Government Files Through the Privacy Act
Federal agencies create files on everyone who’s ever paid income taxes, served in the military, applied for a federal benefit, or in another way directly interacted with the government.
If you’re a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you have the right through the Privacy Act to see and correct information the government keeps on file about you.
Your Rights Under the Privacy Act
The Privacy Act of 1974 guarantees your right to:
- See records about your personal information, subject to the act’s exemptions
- Correct a record that is inaccurate or incomplete unless it’s exempt
- Sue the government for violating the law for improper disclosures
How to Make a Privacy Act Request
To request records under the Privacy Act, you must contact the federal agency you believe holds the records.
When creating your request:
- Explain what information you want, why you believe the agency has information about you, and when you believe the record was created. Provide as many details as possible.
- Include proof of identity, such as a copy of your driver’s license.
- Ask about any fees you’ll owe for copies of your files.
Agencies typically group their Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) offices together. When you write, address your request to the agency’s or program’s FOIA/Privacy Act Officer and state in your letter that it is a Privacy Act request.
Learn more specific guidelines from these agencies:
Find other agencies and contacts for submitting your Privacy Act request.
Types of Information Agencies Are Not Required to Disclose
There are 10 exemptions to the information agencies must allow you to see. Two frequently-used exemptions involve:
- Records containing classified information on national security
- Records concerning criminal investigations
Regulation of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
Three federal organizations regulate alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives:
- Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) - collects excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and ammunition and ensures that these products meet labeling, advertising, and marketing laws. It also administers the federal laws and regulations that protect consumers.
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) - protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products.
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) is responsible for carrying out the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which Congress passed in 2009. This law – commonly called the Tobacco Control Act – gives FDA broad authority to regulate the manufacturing, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products.
State and Local Government
State and local laws also regulate the sale and distribution of alcohol and tobacco. For more information:
Federal and State Laws, Regulations, and Related Court Decisions
Federal laws apply to people living in the United States and its territories.
Congress creates and passes bills. The president then may sign those bills into law. Federal courts may review the laws to see if they agree with the Constitution. If a court finds a law is unconstitutional, it can strike it down.
Find Federal Laws
The United States Code contains general and permanent federal laws. It does not include regulations, decisions, or laws issued by:
New public and private laws appear in each edition of the United States Statutes at Large. There is a new edition for each session of Congress.
Regulations are issued by federal agencies, boards, and commissions. They explain how agencies plan to carry out laws. Regulations are published yearly in the Code of Federal Regulations.
The Rulemaking Process
Federal regulations are created through a process known as rulemaking. If an agency wants to make, change, or delete a rule, it will:
Publish the proposal in the Federal Register
Seek public comment
Consider the public's comments and change the rule if necessary. The agency then publishes the final version in the Federal Register along with:
A description of the comments received
The agency’s response to those comments
The date the rule goes into effect
Federal Court Decisions
Federal courts do not write or pass laws. But they may establish individual “rights” under federal law. This happens through courts' interpretations of federal and state laws and the Constitution.
An example is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The court decided that state laws which segregated public school students by race violated the 14th Amendment. It said that "separate but equal" schools cause minority children to feel inferior. And that hurts their educational opportunities.
Research decisions of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts.
State Laws and Regulations
State legislatures make the laws in each state. State courts can review these laws. If a court decides a law doesn't agree with the state's constitution, it can declare it invalid.
Find state laws and regulations with the Law Library of Congress’s guide for each state.
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Last Updated: April 18, 2019